ArtCenter College of Design’s renowned transportation design programs will soon have a new home in the Mullin Transportation Design Center (MTDC), located in the heart of the college’s South Campus. Darin Johnstone Architects (DJA) is revitalizing the campus’s historic “wind tunnel” building, working closely with ArtCenter’s Transportation Design department to conceptualize vehicle-intensive spaces that facilitate research, experimentation and cutting-edge design. DJA's design supports a paradigm shift for ArtCenter—which, for the last 20 years, focused on scale models—towards experiences similar to those of professional transportation design studios.
The renovation nearly doubles the effective square footage of the wind tunnel located at 950 South Raymond Avenue in Pasadena, converting the existing 18,000-square-foot space to hold 31,000 square feet of specialized labs, classrooms, exhibition spaces, studios and offices. The east side of the project, which holds studios and offices on two levels, is a simple bar laminated to the edge of the wind tunnel. The remainder of the space comprises hovering elements that float in the space and shape larger voids, a nod to the aeronautic history of the space. A flex lecture space and viewing deck on the mezzanine level sit above a fabrication studio and Vehicle Architecture Lab on level one. A curved ramping gallery, connecting to the second level, slips around and over the Art and Process Lab, framing the upper division Undergraduate Studio to complete the hover diagram.
The MTDC will serve as a pedestrian passthrough on a line that connects all of the buildings on ArtCenter’s South Campus. This passthrough, designed to occur on the west side of level one, also contains vertical circulation elements that allow all visitors to loop up to the hovering programs and flow around the lab spaces visible below. All of level one is accessible to full-scale vehicles and there is a “street” through the space which passes under the hovering elements and connects all labs.
The existing building’s volume presents an amazing opportunity for full-scale vehicular access and contains a poetic link to the history of transportation design, an ideal setting for speculations on its future. Throughout the mid-1900s, the massive, barrel-vaulted space was home to a supersonic wind tunnel operated by the California Institute of Technology as a testing facility for leading aerospace manufacturers including Convair, Douglas, Lockheed, McDonnell and North American. Originally designed to simulate motion by testing objects fixed in space, the building is being converted to accept real motion. The design acknowledges the interplay of time and the evolution of design processes related to transportation and modern aviation. A taut, smooth aesthetic of strange lightness hovers in contrast to the rough lovely wooden vessel of the original wind tunnel.